PEZ: You started mountain biking when you were 7 years old and then changed to the road when you were 11, and you were skiing as well?
Jukka Vastaranta: Yea, I skied all the time, I was junior ski champion, I had to stop when I got the offer from Rabobank and moved to Belgium, there’s not much skiing in Belgium! I went to Rabobank as a Junior in the amateur team for 2 years and then with the Pro team for 2 years.
PEZ: How old were you when you went to Rabobank and which races where best for you?
Jukka: Junior, 18/19. I was best in the shorter stage races and the Classics (without cobbles), like Liege-Bastonge-Liege. I was good in the Belgian races, in Jartazi we rode everywhere in Belgium, the cobbles were not too much of a problem. When I was a junior I was a sprinter, I weigh maybe 65kgs so I can climb a bit too.
PEZ: You had 20 Pro wins?
Jukka: Maybe not so many, some where Pro wins and some as amateur, sometimes its difficult to say which are which in Belgium! We did a lot of 1.5 and 1.6 UCI races, my biggest Pro win would be at the Elektrotoer, I also won the U23 Flech Ardenaise, but it was a Pro race and the Triptyque Ardenaise. I won the Junior UCI World Cup in 2001 and was second in the Junior Worlds in Zolder 2002. But really I only had one true Pro win where there were more Pro’s than amateurs racing.
PEZ: They were looking at you to be the new star, so what went wrong?
Jukka: Ah! It’s a long story, eh. OK you know the sciatic nerve, it runs down the back of the leg from the spine, well I (eventually) found out from this old guy, Leo Saario, who has studied this nerve for years, oh! and 8 out of 10 people have this problem, well maybe you don’t feel anything, but when you move your position to help one leg all your weight shift and will cause a problem somewhere else, so one muscle is trying to compensate for another. So one side of your body is working for the other and then you get breathing problems, then your neck is wrong and you get problems with your head and then I was feeling dizzy and seeing double.
PEZ: So what treatment are you having?
Jukka: I go to the really old guy, Leo Saario who is 81 years old, and he does this very hard massage, he hurts all the muscles, afterwards it helps a lot.
PEZ: You couldn’t ride?
Jukka: No, the year before I stopped I had a really bad season (2006), I was riding until the end of May, I wasn’t finishing every race and I thought it was over and then I would be OK and go well for one month with good results with many times in the top ten and suddenly I was good again for a month. Then it was over again, you loose all the power and I was also having stomach problems and with the dizziness it was difficult to ride straight, so you can’t do anything. Saario said that the blood goes up one side of the neck and down the other so if it is tight then that can cause pressure in your head and that is dangerous.
PEZ: So that is why Rabobank didn’t keep you on?
Jukka: Yea, they were saying that I wasn’t training or I was lazy, so that was that. I went to Jartazi (smaller Belgian team) and was good for a while and then suddenly it started again, with the team doctor of Jartazi for two months we tried to find out what was wrong with blood tests and all sorts of pictures (X-Rays etc.) from all angles, nothing!
PEZ: And it was all coming from your sciatic nerve. Pain in the lower back?
Jukka: No, I don’t feel it there, it affects all my muscles, the masseur said my legs are totally over, he said my legs were like a 50 year olds, which is not good for 25 years, he said there was only 30% of the power in the right leg, also my chest cant move which is not good for the bike, its very important to breath! The food in my stomach would not move down so for four hours I would be trying to digest.
PEZ: So what happened then with Jartazi?
Jukka: They had tried everything and were looking at allergies, but then they were saying it was in my head and that I should go home to recover and come back when I was strong. I was at home for two months and I found out from internet that I had been kicked out of the team. It was in June, they didn’t phone, a friend told me “I see you are not in the team?” I rode a little and then I had to do my national service, but as a Professional sportsman you only do 3 months and I still had a contract with Jartazi, so I looked at it as a form of training. After that I came to Spain as I had a contract for a Mountain Bike team for 2008, I was good again with just some running and skiing, then biking in Spain, the first races I did well (3rd in Madrid) until the problem came back.
PEZ: That’s when you started to see the old man, Leo Saario, and he found your problem?
Jukka: I heard from a skier about this man, at that point I was seeing three eyes when I looked at peoples faces. I told him everything and he immediately told me he knew what was wrong and started to help me. He is so strong, he finds all the knots in the muscles and goes really deep, he has been a masseur for over 50 years, it works.
PEZ: When did you start looking for the problem?
Jukka: It was 2005, I rode La Vuelta a Espaсa, I had been really strong in the spring that year and then rode more and more races and was sick in July. Then they said I had to go to La Vuelta. I was tired and sick; it had probably all been too much. That was when I knew I wasn’t going so well. Nearly 5 years it’s been a problem, but the old man says it could start when you are only 10 years old, when your body is growing.
PEZ: So what about this year, mountain bike or road?
Jukka: Road, I prefer the road, but it is easier to try your form on the mountain bike. I’m only going to ride in Finland until the National Championships in June, then if I am strong I will go to Belgium, it would be good if I could ride as a stagiere for a good team for the end of the season.
PEZ: You were Finnish TT Champion?
Jukka: Yes, one year. I will ride the time trial and the road champs, I feel quite good now, I was also doing cross country ski races, the races were 20 minutes or half an hour which is not too hard, it all helps.
PEZ: What do you do for money, do you need to work?
Jukka: I started working in a sports shop last summer, but had to quit during the winter and now I work in the bike shop of an old friend for half a day in the afternoon and I was skiing all through the winter from September till the end of March. I also use the trainer in the house. There is still snow there in April, so the mountain bike is better. That is why I own a house in Spain!
PEZ: How would you like to see your future going?
Jukka: I would like to be a Pro for the next 10 years, I’ve had 2 lost years from cycling, I was leading more of a normal life which was nice, but I can come back again, I was always thinking of this as I was working on the bikes of my friend. After the Nationals I could go to Belgium for the Kermess, but to ride for a team would be great. I’ve been up and then down, I want to be up there again, to be a good road rider again would be nice.
PEZ: Have you any advice for young riders?
Jukka: Don’t be so worried if you have one day off with a cold, I lost two years!
That’s the story of a young man who has had to grow-up very quickly; he had the (cycling) world at his feet with a great career in front of him and lost it once. If all goes well he will have another chance, all the best, Jukka!
Make sure to check out Jukka’s website. Don’t worry, it’s in English.